UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis | 13 May 2022

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What the article is about?

  • Talks about the misuse of sedition provisions and why it should be repealed.

Syllabus: GS-II Indian polity, Fundamental rights, Constitutional principles

Sedition Law:

  • Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy.
    • The law was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, but was inexplicably omitted when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860.
    • Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence.
  • Today the Sedition is a crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
    • It defines sedition as an offence committed when “any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”.
    • Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence under this section.
  • Punishment:
    • It is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which a fine may be added.
    • A person charged under this law is barred from a government job.
    • They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in the court at all times as and when required.

Concerns:

  • The data on draconian laws like 124A or UAPA exposes their untenability.
    • According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, a total of 156 cases of sedition were pending in 2017.
    • In courts, out of the 58 cases on trial, only one conviction could be obtained and the pendency rate for the cases of sedition was close to 90 per cent.
    • Pendency in court reached close to 95 per cent for the sedition cases in 2020.
  • The picture is no different for the UAPA. Cases under it have increased by about 75 per cent between 2017-2020. A total of 4,827 UAPA cases were pending in 2020 —of them, only 398 could be chargesheeted in that year.

Way Ahead:

  • Most recently, on May 11, the Supreme Court directed the Union government and the states to refrain from using the law of sedition and keep all previous cases under 124A in abeyance till the matter is reconsidered in a comprehensive way.
  • It is time we usher in an era of free speech. For that, the sedition law must go.



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